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Can Shaheen, Ayotte and Commonsense Caucus hold off next government shutdown?

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When it comes to Washington, D.C., these days, there seems to be a lack of commonsense in the halls of Congress.

The Commonsense Caucus hopes to change that as the U.S. House and Senate prepare for Round 2 of budget talks to forestall - and perhaps rid ourselves -- of another government shutdown.

New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators -- Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte -- have signed onto the caucus described this week by Politico as being led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The group originally rose from the bitter partisanship that led to the October shutdown that closed many government operations for 16 days.

A deal crafted by the bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of 14 helped resolve the shutdown issues and raise the debt ceiling.

But not for good.

The entire scenario will repeat itself as the government nears a Jan. 15, 2014 deadline on many of the same issues that led to the October shutdown.

The first big test comes soon. A budget conference committee chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has a deadline of Dec. 13 to craft an agreement.

If that fails, Collins told Politico that would be the time the Commonsense Caucus might spring into action again: “Let’s say the Budget Committee is unable to reach any kind of agreement. II would think that our group would reconvene and talk about whether we could put together a plan.”

Among Democrats, besides Manchin and Shaheen, the group includes Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Mark Warner of Virginia and independent Angus King of Maine.

Republicans besides Collins and Ayotte include: Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John McCain of Arizona, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Dean Heller of Nevada.

Is Congress any better prepared now to stave off another shutdown?

Perhaps not. While the original shutdown left conservative Republicans chastened, it was only temporary. The Obama Administration’s blown roll-out of the Affordable Care Act sign-up for health insurance has turned the tables, leaving Democrats on the offensive and Republicans emboldened anew.

We can only hope that what Ayotte told Politico is true this time around: “When nothing was happening, we tried to be a catalyst to get the government open.”

Paul Briand is an editor with the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire politics and policies.

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